Category Archives: Eating out

Turntables: Hackney Wick

For some reason I’ve always been a bit wary of pop-ups – what if there’s  no-one there? Can I pay by card? What if it’s really good and then we can never go back? All unfounded, as proven this weekend with a little trip to Turntables, situated canalside next to Hackney Wick station.

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TT5It’s a big tented area with strings of lights, three bars (one is a hot bar with mulled wine and cider), multiple gorgeous food stands, DJs and plenty of oil drum bonfires to stave off frostbite.  I made a beeline for The Cheese Truck (@CheeseTruckLDN) for a delicious melted cheese, rocket and chorizo sandwich – it was heaven, and I’ll definitely be trying to catch these guys again. Other choices included Bill or Beak (@BillorBeak) for juicy-looking duck and pork rolls, as well as hot dogs, jerk chicken and waffles.

TT3

Amaretto and whiskey sours from the cocktail bar were perfect, and at £8 the same as you’d pay in a bar. DJs were playing loud funky house, and there’s a dancefloor area to really get stuck in. They also throw in an afterparty at Shapes next door to carry onto into the next day – it’s a fab little venue that’s well worth a trip to Hackney.

There are two more weekends to get involved, it runs from 5pm Friday-Sunday until 20th December.

119 Wallis Rd, E9 5LN

New restaurant! The Ivy Market Grill: Covent Garden

Having waited a week since the opening, and with it very close to where I work, the urge to check out Caprice Holdings’ new baby was practically overwhelming. And so to Covent Garden’s The Ivy Market Grill we went, with a booking for dinner on the Tuesday of its second week.

Little brother of dining stalwart The Ivy, it feels more accessible than the mother ship, with much of the menu pretty reasonably priced,  and half the tables reserved for walk-ins. This almost makes it feel more casual, but the menu is fabulous and the décor stunning, all dark wood panels and mosaic floor tiles.

Ivy3

It was super busy on a Tuesday, nearly full. We ordered wine and Prosecco and got stuck in to the huge menu – it’s all British classics, simple and delicious. There were about 18 things I wanted to order but felt one should exercise a bit of restraint in these situations. I generally try and stick with two courses to avoid actually being a house, and this time took the risky decision to have a main and dessert (good choice – more on that later).

Ivy1

We ordered the shepherd’s pie and half a Banham chicken, which came with French fries, along with extra greens. The pie was delicious, chunks of lamb rather than mince with creamy potato and cheese. My other half found it slightly underseasoned, but it should be noted he like things salty.  The chicken was juicy and full of flavour, covered in a lovely herby marinade/rub, and the veg was crunchy which I love.

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The dessert was actually the highlight for me, which is rare – I normally prefer a few slabs of cheese and/or more wine, but this was incredible. It was a ‘chocolate bombe’, a sphere of dark chocolate encasing vanilla ice cream, surrounded by milk foam and with hot salted caramel sauce poured over at the table to melt the ball and expose the middle. I love salted caramel but this was something else, so rich and perfect with the milk foam, which stayed foamy even with the sauce poured on it, and not a hint of resemblance to spit. The post-melting pic obviously doesn’t do it justice at all but you get the idea..

Ivy2They also have their own branded gin and  Champagne, which coincidently is something I aspire to.

The service and atmosphere were great, if I had to highlight small niggles they would be that I asked to swap fries for beef dripping chips but they didn’t materialise, also it was extremely hot in there – to the point that we went elsewhere rather than have another drink. I’d still go back, there’s loads on the menu I’d like to try, it’s pretty reasonable and still feels like somewhere special.

www.theivymarketgrill.com/

Square Meal

Foxlow: Farringdon

Since my first fabulous evening at the gorgeous Hawksmoor Air Street early in the year, I’ve been itching to try ‘little brother’ establishment Foxlow in Farringdon. With talk of local seafood, shortrib to die for and Hawksmoor-worthy steaks, what’s not to like?

After a drink at the bar we were seated – it wasn’t busy but hadn’t quite reached the echo-y awkwardness of being totally empty. We went for the curried mussels and smokehouse rillettes to start – I’ll admit to looking up the definition of rillettes beforehand, which excited me a lot (pretty much meat mashed with fat – halfway to pate), and they didn’t disappoint.

Delicious rillettes
Delicious rillettes

The meat was gorgeous; rich and tender, complimented perfectly by crunchy toast, capers, strips of gherkin and cucumber.  The mussels were plump and soft, and while my mussel preferences normally default to anything with wine and/or cream, the curried sauce was salty and fragrant – heaven. One of those moments when you have to try VERY hard not to pick up the dish and drink from it.

Hotly-anticipated mains exceeded all expectations; I’d heard great things about the ten-hour beef shortrib and oh my god, it was incredible, absolutely melting off the bone. I hate the word ‘unctuous’ but it kept springing to mind, and is probably a spot-on description. It’s served with kimchi, a Korean fermented cabbage salad – not the most appetising description granted, but it was tangy, crunchy and spicy, ideal for the soft, rich meat.

Ten-hour beef shortrib
Ten-hour beef shortrib

We also had the D-rump steak served with bone marrow, and added anchovy and chilli butter, fries and some baby gem with parmesan – didn’t really need cheesy lettuce to be honest but I’m nothing if not determined. The steak was perfection (as expected) and smearing it with the butter and the meaty jelly from the bone it felt like the most indulgent dish ever.

Like Hawksmoor the service at Foxlow is great.  Our waiter (I wish I’d got his name) was a star, brought extra bread for the mussels when he noticed we’d hoovered it all up, made spot-on recommendations, drew the D-rump on his pad to explain it (it’s the inside part of the bum cheek, so doesn’t work as hard as the rump and is more tender) and was generally very personable and lovely.

At £90 for 2 x two courses with drinks and service it’s not bad at all, given the quality of the food and the fact that you feel so looked after. Will certainly be back for brunch!

www.foxlow.co.uk

*The fabulous pics are courtesy of Foxlow – mine were awful

Square Meal

Foxlow on Urbanspoon

The Halfway House: Earlsfield

Finding myself in Earlsfield isn’t a common occurrence, I wouldn’t have a clue where to begin in terms of eating or drinking.  Luckily, as soon as you come out of the station you are in spitting distance of the newly-refurbished Halfway House, a delightful pub with lots of quirky detailing, effusively friendly service and what quickly transpired to be a gorgeous menu.

HH - dining room

Meeting my sister for a glass and a bite after work, we plumped for the Rioja (delicious) in the airy dining room area and went through the menu, which is packed with seasonal delights – lots of game, seafood, pork belly and pub classics.

We went for the pigeon and razor clams to start, and rabbit haunch (to Soph’s horror) and pork belly for mains. HHpigeon

HHclams

The pigeon wasn’t overly tender (perhaps cooked a tiny bit too long?) but the flavour was incredible, so strong and meaty. The razor clams were the sea on a plate – really soft, salty and delicious with tender leeks and a touch of bacon-smokiness, and lots of pepper. I could’ve definitely polished them off twice, just needed a little piece of crusty bread to mop up the juice.

Despite Soph’s sadness at my wolfing down her childhood pets, I thoroughly enjoyed the rabbit haunch – the meat was juicy and easily came off the bones, and with golden beetroot, kale and pearl barley, the whole dish felt autumnal and somehow restorative.

The twice-cooked pork belly was perfect crunchy on the outside while the meat just melted. Black pudding complimented it perfectly.

HHpork HHrabbit

Thoroughly stuffed we of course went for dessert – rich, creamy lemon posset with a home-made shortbread biscuit, and a chocolate ‘brookie’, or brownie/cookie hybrid with salted caramel ice cream. More brownie than cookie, the ice cream had sunk into the chocolate creating a soft, wet, caramel/chocolate mess. Heaven. So two fab desserts! (and the posset was actually not bad spread onto the brookie *sheepish*)

The brookie itself came with raspberry sauce. Now I really have an issue with fruit and chocolate (except oranges) so I left that bit alone, but am fully aware I’m being picky and that this was overall a fabulous dessert.  We went further with an espresso martini and a glass of the muscat – both delicious and the perfect end to the meal.

HHdessert

The Halfway House is highly recommended – staff are lovely, there was a nice atmosphere (fairly busy on a rainy Tuesday) and the food is extremely good. Definitely worth a visit if you find yourself in Earlsfield!

http://www.thehalfway.com/

*Food is very reasonable but we were guests of Halfway House.

Square Meal

The Mac’n’Cheese Scotch Egg at Finch’s

This dish was so good it required the whole post to be named after it. But onto that later..

Nestled between Moorgate and Old Street, Finch’s pub is relatively unassuming from the outside, but once you’re in it opens out into a tardis-like expanse of pale wood, mismatched furniture, birdcages and lots of quirky little details that make it feel like a unique oasis in a desert of chains. As it’s part of pub giant Young’s, of patterned carpets and brass handrails, this is a pretty epic achievement.

I will have to attempt to curb my enthusiasm for my starter or this will turn into a novel. Perfectly boiled runny egg, soft, creamy pasta,  and a crisp, crunchy coating equals… yes, it’s the MACARONI CHEESE SCOTCH EGG. Whilst it does admittedly hover on the edge of the deep-fried Mars bar/Oreo-filled doughnut category, it hits all my weaknesses in one cheesy go. The hot mustard is the perfect accompaniment It’s roughly the size of a head, and portioned as a starter so best to share, especially if you want to indulge in mains and dessert.

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We also had coffee-smoked salmon on toast with vanilla and caramel nuts; delicious fish, enhanced by the hint of coffee but I did question the vanilla with the salmon – Heston may have pulled it off at The Fat Duck, but something here didn’t 100% work. The salmon was delicious, lightly smokey, not greasy, cut to the perfect thickness – leave it alone I say.

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Mains were meaty, generous and delicious – tender, rare duck breast with a light orange sauce and fondant potato, and perfectly cooked steak with chunky, spot-on chips. Dessert came in the form of a chocolate salami – a rich, dark log of chocolate, biscuit and pistachios, served with chocolate sauce. We gilded the lily with salted caramel ice cream; it didn’t need it but it was lovely.

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Everything was reasonably priced, the service was attentive and friendly, the food delicious and although it was very quiet (Monday) I imagine later in the week it’s much more buzzy – overall a near-enough triumph for Young’s.

www.finchspub.co.uk

*A version of this post was first published on Foodepedia

La Perla Fiesta!

I am more and more a fan of a good Mexican – Casa Morita in Brixton (post to come!) is one of my favourite restaurants anywhere, and I’m always enthusiastic about sampling different ones, ideally authentic little places that are probably slightly rough round the edges but make you feel like you’ve found a hidden gem.

La Perla in Covent Garden is one of those. Long and thin, wedged into Maiden Lane amongst plenty of competition, the first thing you notice is the bar at the front, which on this occasion was absolutely packed with Thursday drinkers. Pushing through to the back there is a small open kitchen, and a few tables for dinner, all set up with a bowl of tortilla chips and a deliciously hot salsa. The ideal way to start. Embarrassingly I hoovered all these up almost immediately and they were discreetly replaced before my guest arrived. Brilliant.

A delicious pear and vanilla margharita kicked things off. I usually find tequila too harsh for a cocktail but the vanilla balanced it perfectly and was a great start.

La perla2

We decided to go with four small plates to share, which was more than enough.  Big juicy prawns were served in a spicy tequila and tomato sauce with salad and tortillas, baked pork shoulder falls apart and is heavenly with the salsa verde. Stuffed, fried jalapenos were hot with lots of crunch and an even hotter chipotle mayo.

La perla prawns

La Perla’s chicken wings are something else – I’m not normally a fan of fiddly bones with a tiny bit of meat but these are fat and juicy, and full of hot, smoky flavour from the marinade. Again, the tomartillo verde cream was spectacular. Sauces are definitely a high point, they’re all strong and lively, and set off the dishes perfectly.

The bill came to £35ish for 2 (only one cocktail each though) and we were stuffed. I do think £1.50 for an extra teeny pot of sour cream is a bit stingy, like charging for ketchup, but a minor point. A great choice for pre-theatre as service is quick, and probably great any other time to be honest. A potential new favourite perhaps..?

La perla4

Cheese heaven at Androuet

This was my second visit to French restaurant Androuet in Spitalfields Market – I had to see if the first time was a fluke, and I’m pleased to report that it wasn’t! After all, we’re talking about a cheese restaurant here with a cheese menu, create your own cheeseboard option and lovely little shop attached for good measure. Three guesses what they sell.

Androuet menu

The menu is varied considering it is based around one ingredient, and after much dithering we settled on an individual special fondue with charcuterie and crusty bread, a cheeseburger and double-baked gouda soufflé.

Androuet souffle

All the food was incredible; the burger was cooked rare (I wish more places would do this) and was juicy and perfectly sized, complimented by huge chips with crispy outsides and fluffy middles – not a soggy flop in sight, and punch-you-in-the-face garlic mayo. The soufflé was light and fluffy, very cheesy (needless to say) and surrounded by a delicate, sweet butternut squash puree, with pumpkin seeds and frisée  giving the perfect crunch to an otherwise fairly soft dish.

Androuet burger

Androuet fondueFondue always seems like the ultimate guilty pleasure; a bowl of hot cheese to dip things into feels like a dirty secret, something unseemly to be ashamed of, something that I might dream up and think about often but be too embarrassed to tell anyone about – but here we were, in public and everything! The cheese mixture at Androuet changes and this one was perfect. Creamy and rich but also sharp with the distinctive tang of blue. By the end of the meal it had become a dip for everything left on any of our plates – heaven.

Despite good intentions to create our own cheeseboard instead of dessert, by the time we got there eating another morsel was out of the question. But this remains on my list for the next Spitalfields outing.

The service at Androuet is by no means exemplary – it was pretty slow most of the time and a couple of things were forgotten. It was also extremely chilly – dinner buddy Alice had her coat on for most of the meal. It’s not cheap – £90 for three mains and one bottle of Prosecco, and they close the shop in the evenings which is a shame. But it’s still very much a keeper, anywhere that serves food beautiful and delicious enough to override these things always would be.

www.androuet.co.uk

Bird is the word

I hate pickles. Horrible, sour, slimy, alien-looking monstrosities, on a constant mission to ruin burgers, fish and chips, the Pret salmon salad and a wealth of other perfectly good meals. The General Manager of Bird suggested I try one of the deep fried variety, and not only did I see off most of the bowl, it was actually a highlight of the meal – no mean feat seeing as Bird produced some of the best fried chicken I’ve ever had.

Nestled by a railway bridge on the Shoreditch end of Kingsland Road, Bird is a relatively new venture, working under the premise that the restaurant industry has elevated the burger to dizzy heights of quality and creativity, so why not do the same for chicken? And the result is delightful.

Their motto is ‘free range and fried’, and they source quality British ingredients that are delivered daily, so no stresses about what you’re actually putting in your mouth (unlike dubious battered anomalies at other chicken establishments I may have visited). I kept it simple with two fried chicken pieces, a mixture of light and dark meat (they give you the choice) and a couple of sides. Now the chicken is perfect, juicy and tender with very crunchy, flavoursome batter – but the sides are where Bird shines. Creamy, crisp coleslaw, aforementioned lovely pickles and jalapeno corn pudding, a creamy, yellow concoction of sweetcorn, chillies and cheese topped with breadcrumbs. Heaven.

Bird is definitley the word

We also had a huge chicken burger and a portion of seasoned fries – salty and slightly spicy, they were delicious.

Mix and match glazes and sauces are designed to complement each other so get advice on which ones to pick, staff are happy to make recommendations. The buffalo glaze and buttermilk ranch sauce were the perfect tangy, creamy combination. We rounded things off with an iced doughnut ice cream sandwich – totally unnecessary, but when in Rome and all that..

Having been firmly south of the river in recent years, I hadn’t ventured to Shoreditch in a while before Bird. With its top notch food, reasonable prices, nice relaxed atmosphere and great service, it’s a solid reason to cross the river. Roll on next time.

First published on Foodepedia